The role of civil society organizations (CSOs) in the COVID-19 response across the Global South: A multinational, qualitative study

Adam C. Levine, Anna Park, Anindita Adhikari, Maria Carinnes P. Alejandria, Benjamin H. Bradlow, Maria F. Lopez-Portillo, Salma Mutwafy, Ieva Zumbyte, Patrick Heller

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Despite receiving less attention than high-income countries, low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) experienced more than 85% of global excess deaths during the first two years of the COVID-19 pandemic. Due to the unprecedented speed and scale of the COVID-19 pandemic, which placed large demands on government capacity, many LMICs relied on civil society organizations (CSOs) to assist in implementing COVID-19 response programs. Yet few studies have examined the critical role CSOs played in mitigating the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic in low resource settings. This study explored the CSO response to COVID-19 in five of the most heavily impacted LMICs in the Global South. Interviews were conducted from May to August 2021 with a purposive sample of CSO key informants within each of the five countries. A total of 52 CSOs were selected from which 53 key informants were interviewed either via Zoom or by phone. Interviews were coded and analyzed using NVivo or MAXQDA2020. Out of the 52 CSOs selected, 24 were national organizations, 8 were regional, and 20 were local. CSOs fell into six categories: community-based organizations, non-governmental organizations, unions/professional organizations, campaigns/ social movements, research organizations/think tanks, and networks/coalitions. CSOs across all five countries adapted their missions, stretched their resources, and performed a wide range of activities that fit into five programmatic areas: food security and livelihood support, public health and medical care, cash transfer programs, risk communication and community education, and needs assessment. This qualitative analysis demonstrates the critical role CSOs played in supplementing government emergency aid response by delivering necessary resources and supporting highly vulnerable populations during the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the primary challenges they faced in doing so. Given the generally weak state of public capacity in the LMICs studied, this role was vital to responding to the pandemic.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere0002341
JournalPLOS Global Public Health
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 2023

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Critical Care and Intensive Care Medicine
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


Dive into the research topics of 'The role of civil society organizations (CSOs) in the COVID-19 response across the Global South: A multinational, qualitative study'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this